“I’m just the little one. Please help me.”

Sometimes life can be overwhelming. Trauma is an obvious example. So is simply having too much to manage coming at you all at once.

Right now, in early November 2022, politics and prospects for the future of the U.S. are in our faces, as well as our individual prospects for the future. Personal finances for those depending on Social Security and Medicare, civil liberties for (it seems) everyone but the “Christian” far-right, changes in how we work, the polarization of information sources, the influence of commerce and materialism, disasters from global warming, and so many loud, angry voices, often with guns.

We are living in what currently looks like a post-pandemic world, and we are trying to reorganize amidst a lot of uncertainty. There’s too much unease if you’re sensitive…and if you’re not sensitive, bless your heart and wake up.

I’ve been practicing something new to me. I ask for help. Every day. Sometimes multiple times a day.

I added a line I learned from constellation work to precede my plea. It refers to the innocent, vulnerable child inside all of us — no matter how big or old we are — who is given too much to deal with.

”I’m just the little one.

Please help me.”

You could call it a form of prayer, although I’m not particularly religious. It’s a message and a plea and an acknowledgment that this world of some sorrow is troubling.

I send this message out to whatever unseen power it is that is bigger than me. A higher power. God-Universe-Spirit (GUS), as some friends say. The planets.

I don’t know if there will be an answer that I can understand.

I open my heart and my mind when I make this request. It does seem to help me to at least feel less alone with my struggles.

I don’t know how help will show up. I just trust that it will.

Your help me come in the form of an inspiration to vote, if you’re registered but not in the habit, because this election could be the last election, in which case you will lose that right. Democracy requires participation. No choice means someone else makes decisions that affect you, your family and friends and community, your finances, your future, your freedom.

You may be inspired to become a poll watcher (or watch the poll watchers to be sure they don’t interfere with those voting).

You may be inspired to give people rides to the polls if you can.

You may be inspired to avoid the news until at least a week after the election, since that’s how long it takes just to count all the votes. Or even longer, since the courts will probably decide in some cases.

I hope you vote for peaceful and reasonable solutions to our problems and help stop the chaos.

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Nearing the end of trauma recovery: confidence and agency

One aspect of recovering from PTSD is not knowing when or if your trauma response will be activated again.

(Some people don’t like the word “triggered” and prefer to say “activated”. I’m using that term now to be more neutral. If a gun was involved in someone’s trauma, to say “triggered” in itself could be activating.)

I recently had an experience that really showed me how much progress I have made in trauma recovery, and I want to share it here in case you or someone you care about is struggling with PTSD recovery. It may give you/them confidence in the healing process.

But first, some background.

I’ve had an extreme stress response activated several times years after doing a lot of work on trauma recovery, which was many years after my childhood trauma.

These stress responses always seemed to happen out of the blue…as once again, the rug was pulled out from under my feet, and I lost my ground and was sent spinning, not knowing which way was up or down.

It’s pretty miserable to be flooded with stress hormones just because something happened in the present that in some way reminded me of the original trauma. The threat seems very real at the time.

However, I’d like to make it clear that each time I went into a stress response, I learned something. I wasn’t entirely helpless.

The most important learning was to check the situation out: just because my body and mind were all jacked up in response to an apparent immediate threat to my safety doesn’t mean there was an actual immediate threat to my safety.

I did some simple critical thinking. Am I safe in this very moment?

I was safe. No one was directly threatening me or my loved ones.

My perceptions played a trick on me because the original trauma was wired into my nervous system. That’s what PTSD is.

Even though I was grateful to be safe, I still had to deal with the cascade of stress chemicals.

When that happened, I tended to hole up by myself because I felt toxic and didn’t want to spread the toxicity. I did more self-nurturing than usual, taking soothing baths, skin brushing, giving myself manicures and pedicures and facials, listening to soothing music or recordings (Pema Chodron is great, also anything funny), taking naps and getting plenty of sleep, wearing soft fabrics, eating healthy, drinking endless cups of camomile tea.

I listened to guided meditations because it was so difficult to calm my monkey mind down when I tried doing my usual silent meditations.

My acupuncturist at the time said I had adrenal fatigue and recommended taking rhodiola and ginseng. After the first few times of being activated, I sought a Somatic Experiencing practitioner who helped me a lot.

My usual behavior was more go-go-go, hmmm, must be nice to have time for that stuff.

Was I addicted to stress? Did that make my stress response worse? I don’t know.

I made time to slow down and nurture myself and came to appreciate these activities when not activated.

I noticed that each time my trauma response was activated, it took less time to return to normal than before. The first time I was activated, it took three full months. The second time, about six weeks. The most recent, about a week.

And then just a few days ago, this happened:

I woke as I often do about 4 am. I laid in bed, in the dark, and my mind made its way back to a memory associated with the original trauma.

I started to feel activated. My back felt prickly and I felt agitated and a little panicky, like I need to do something! Now!

I realized I was at the beginning of a stress response. For the first time, it happened mildly and slowly enough that I was conscious of it beginning.

I did not want to go into a full-blown stress response.

I stopped thinking about the original trauma and brought my attention to my body, curled up safe in my bed, under the covers with my favorite pillow in the dark, in the present moment.

And the agitation and panic and chemical cascade just stopped. It seems like it took less than a minute to feel fully back to my safe and healthy self.

It seemed marvelous to me that I stopped being retraumatized simply by using my mind constructively.

I later told this to my colleague who’s helped me with trauma recovery bodywork, and he said I had agency.

Yes. I was not helpless, which seems to be a hallmark of traumatic experience. I could do something about it because I was conscious of the onset, able to distinguish present from past, able to direct my attention, and I knew what I wanted — safety and peace, not activation.

Also, there may have been some energetic guidance helping, but I don’t know for sure.

I do recall recently voicing what so many trauma survivors experience: How does one ever know that one has fully recovered from a trauma? How can one know there are no more flashbacks, no more activations?

I can’t know for sure, but this feels like a huge step forward in the direction of being free from reactivation.

Morning download, 3.1.19

Sometimes I have second thoughts. My wild mind gets half-baked ideas that are so exciting, and the next day they don’t look that good. I took down my most recent post that was like that. It’s just not ready for public consumption.

So. New day, new topic. Please note I am not saying what follows to brag. I hope saying it gives those who need it encouragement.

For someone who was traumatized by a sudden, tragic, violent loss in childhood, who as a result had PTSD for decades before it was even a diagnosable malady — life can be good again.

I wake up happy to greet a new day, on most days. I feel balanced, grounded, centered, open, resilient, buoyant, strong, like a fountain constantly replenishing and renewing. I have more than enough.

Perhaps these good days are even sweeter because of the past. Trauma survivors, please savor and enjoy every good day, every good hour even, that comes your way.

It’s not as if the trauma in this bodymindfield is gone, over, done. Even when you’ve done a lot of work to remember, sort, get perspective, feel, self-soothe, reconcile, and heal that wounded self, a scar still resides in your nervous system. But it can disappear for long stretches of time.

You can work with your autonomic nervous system to rebalance it so that you read and respond to actual threats and to safety appropriately, but in reading what psychotherapists with 40 years of experience have to say, trauma is scar tissue in the psyche. Scar tissue will never be as healthy and resilient as unscarred skin. It’s more fragile. It’s not organized the same way at the cellular level. You can work with it to make it more pliable and reduce the scarring, but it will never be as if the trauma never happened, the skin unscarred.

Also, obviously, trauma resides in your memories, which are connected to your ANS. How often do you need to revisit those memories? Not that often for me, any more. I want to mention that some of the memories from the time of the trauma remained veiled from my conscious mind for a long time, and sometimes a memory shapes our behavior, unbidden.

Trauma is definitely something you want behind you on your timeline, not in the way of denial but in the healthy manner of moving on with your life, because healthy life beckons after trauma, if you let it. It may start with one peaceful hour.

Investigate peace, and savor it.

Facing forward, sometimes trauma from the past sneaks ahead and gets right in your face. Boo! Your ANS, which is instinctual and not really all that smart, interprets something as a threat that simply isn’t. Something happens in the present that unconsciously reminds the part of your brain that’s trying to keep you safe of a time when you were unsafe in the past, and you react sharply, as if past were present, get flooded with stress hormones, experience the fight-or-flight dance going on.

Hopefully, the thinking part of your brain will kick in to help you evaluate the situation! Are you actually in imminent danger? If the answer is no, then you get to wait it out while your system rebalances itself, recovering from the dump of stress hormones. Acupuncture and supplements for adrenal depletion can be very helpful.

Beautiful self-care is required when a memory hijacks the ANS and there is no actual threat. Be ever so kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can. Make beautiful cups of tea. Slow down. Light a candle and watch it burn. Take a long fragrant soak in the tub, preferably with Epsom salt. Just breathe. Listen to lovely music. Move your body with care. Do restorative yoga. Walk in nature. Spend time with a loving friend.

Afterwards, trauma resides in memories and the ANS. Build yourself a vast toolkit of self-care resources for the activated times.

Trauma can also play a huge role in your beliefs. We are run by our beliefs, and some of them are outside our awareness. Feeling cursed? Been there. Having bad luck with relationships? Been there. So many questions. Why me? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How can anyone love me? How could God let this happen? Does God love me?

What are some things you have believed about yourself, your life, your character, your worthiness, after a trauma?

At this point, all I can say about belief is to frame it in the healthiest way you can. If that means you acknowledge that you encountered misfortune — something that has happened to a lot of people throughout human history — and understand it’s just the way life as a human can sometimes be, and don’t take it personally, that seems like a great start. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t deserve it, you are not being punished, you are not cursed. You ran into some bad luck, that’s all.

This is how you build resilience and move on. If you need a little healthy delusion, I say go for it. If rocks or essential oils or photos of Ramana Maharshi soften the harshness, use them. I do.

Beliefs are about what’s important. Identity is who you are. By working with your beliefs, you start to change your identity.

NLP Neuro-Logical Levels of Change.

We live our lives inside a huge mystery. Theoretical physicists say that two thirds of all existence consists of dark energy, and no one knows what it is. I just love this, my favorite new factoid! We.Don’t.Know.What’s.Going.On.

So feel free to make something up that works for you, that gives you strength and courage and takes the weight of oppression or unworthiness off you, so you can rise up to meet the rest of your life. Why not?

By all means, take credit for and celebrate the good stuff — for taking right action, or coming to understand what that means or if that was even possible then. For persisting in the face of hardship. For recovering some of your mental health. For those who understand and accept you, or are willing to make that attempt. For self-care and self-compassion. For bonding with all of humanity through your compassion for all suffering. For finding your path.

After trauma, you get to work with your autonomic nervous system, your memories, and your beliefs. Exploring and reframing your beliefs are where you can make the most difference. Have courage. You’re worth it.

Morning download, 2.22.19

Yesterday was rough. A dear friend for over 20 years was in the hospital having breast cancer surgery with preparation for reconstruction. We’d had ceremony Wednesday night for support, a gathering of friends to hold her and another friend with a serious health issue in our big collective heart as we move through this difficult part of the journey, walking each other home.

I shared part of that ceremony with three other women, and we laughed a lot. Fishermen’s Friend does that to people. May our laughter contribute to the healing of all.

Dear goddess, bless you for the gift of levity in the face of the unknown.

The surgery was longer than expected — 9 hours. Pauline’s older sister Marie was there at the hospital with her, and I was Marie’s contact person to post progress in the ceremony’s Facebook event for all to see.

Surgery started at 8. By 10:30 am, Marie shared that the sentinel lymph node that was removed and examined was cancer free. Good news. Marie said the surgeons expected her to go to the recovery room about 3-4 pm.

At 5 pm, I’d heard nothing and contacted Marie. Marie texted that Pauline was in recovery but she (Marie) was still waiting for the doctors to come talk to her.

And then, finally, the news came that both surgeons were pleased with the outcome. Whew.

I also did some deep digging and writing yesterday morning to a friend on something he’d challenged me to examine. I love doing that kind of self-examining work, and I needed time to let it cook into coherence.

It takes attention to go within so deeply. I went back to a time when my legs went out from under me, the beginning of not wanting to be here, having learned very young of the existence of unspeakable cruelty in a very personal way. Wrote it, sent it, went out to meet the day.

After my morning obligations were met — and my networking group laughed a lot — again, thank you, dear goddess — I came home and crashed. I needed my own space and stillness to let my earlier self-examination continue to unwind its gifts and flow through me with attentive care.

I lay in a heap of exhausted sorrow and realized this happens when I go there. It depletes me to remember. This is why I don’t do it often and not just for anybody. It’s always for me, really. I could have said no, but I was curious about where my behavior was coming from too.

I cried. My tears felt good and tasted salty.

I didn’t get stuck with the raw bleeding heart sensation. It was there but wasn’t as intense. It’s open and tender today, a bit achy.

It’s vulnerable, revisiting a trauma. Sometimes the truth — or a truth, because when the spiral comes back around, truth will be different, with different insights — is hard fucking won.

I learned something valuable about myself, that I need to push, and sometimes I push against others, and it’s probably not very pleasant to receive. I come across as blaming and misunderstanding, rightly so, on a superficial level. I grasp at an excuse to push. And really, it’s an indicator that I need to set a healthy boundary and perhaps offer a challenge myself.

Where does this behavior come from? I push to get out of the box, the box of being violated, disrespected, dishonored, crushed, silenced, dominated, overpowered, overlooked, robbed of my agency, minimized, underestimated, isolated.

I push to make space for me, to stand on my feet, connected to heaven and earth with the horizontal embrace of humanity as well, life force flowing through me freely.

I am a troubled person too sometimes, and I’m working on it. I’m trying to think of a name for the troubled part of me, because I can, much of the time, come from a healthy place, and when this troubled part comes out, I’m usually aware of it but sometimes not, and I need others to help me see it so I can do my healing work.

I’m learning toward Harriet, because I don’t know anyone named Harriet. “I’m wondering if Harriet would like to say something.” “Hi, Harriet. What are you experiencing now?” “Harriet, what do you need?”

Do you have any other suggestions for a name?

Eventually my energy moved toward equilibrium, and to cheer myself up, I remembered my favorite cartoon, What’s Opera, Doc? I must have watched it half a dozen times. Elmer and Bugs sing Wagner. Elmer is pretty funny, but Bugs is my cartoon hero. He’s brash, witty, unpredictable, a wisecracking carrot-eating trickster — and oh, yeah, he’s Jewish.

Third time: thank you, goddess and Chuck Jones, for the gift of levity.

Then the good news about my dear friend’s surgery.

Feeling so much appreciation for my offspring, my sistren and my brethren, for the ability to process and learn, to dive for a fish and come back up with one in my hands. Today, it’s all good.

After #MeToo, Aikido.

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Source: http://upliftconnect.com/aikido-conflict/. Many thanks.

Times are changing. The sheer number of women who have come forward with tales of being sexually harassed or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein has opened up a national conversation that is long overdue.`

The many #MeToo tales of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape shared on Facebook and Twitter have made it clear: this situation is not just happening in Hollywood. It’s common. It is rare that a woman has never experienced such inappropriate sexual behavior. Millions of women — and teen girls, and girl children — have been touched in a sexual way that they did not want. And we’ve pretty much normalized it, except in especially heinous cases such as Bill Cosby and the occasional gang rape or murder or famous person.

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A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too.

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Trauma never goes completely away

My friend Spike shared a link to this New York Times article on Facebook, and since trauma and recovery are themes on this blog, I thought I’d share it here. The author, a psychiatrist, writes about how trauma and grief never go completely away.

Can’t get over it? You may now stop trying and believing that you have to or that something is wrong with you because you haven’t or can’t.

My mother’s knee-jerk reaction, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others….

The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.

Mr. Rogers and 5 random acts of kindness for each person who died

This has been quoted on Facebook about how to help young children who encounter scary things in the news:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. ~ Fred Rogers

Here’s a link to the whole web page from which the quote came.

This is part of why I don’t own a television:

The way that news is presented on television can be quite confusing for a young child. The same video segment may be shown over and over again through the day, as if each showing was a different event. Someone who has died turns up alive and then dies again and again. Children often become very anxious since they don’t understand much about videotape replays, closeups, and camera angles. Any televised danger seems close to home to them because the tragic scenes are taking place on the TV set in their own living room. Children can’t tell the difference between what’s close and what’s far away, what’s real and what’s pretend, or what’s new and what’s re-run.

It’s not just children who become very anxious. Your consciousness is taking it in. Even though I’ve been an adult for a long time, and I’ve been conditioned about what “reality” is, watching the events of 9-11 really brought it home to me: the way “the news” televises tragedies is traumatizing. So many replays, so much repetition to get all “the facts” right, so much effort to keep people glued to their sets, feeling horrified and helpless, while taking in those images and words over and over again.

Turn off the news. Go for a walk. Pray and take care of yourself and your family. And look for solutions.

One Facebook friend (Ginger Webb, whom I’ve never met but whose fabulous herbal products I buy and recommend) proposed doing five random acts of kindness for each person who died.

I like that. I so wish that our government would enact gun control laws and make treatment for PTSD free and accessible for everyone. We do not need to be as highly armed as we are, and we’re not doing a very good job keeping guns out of the hands of the emotionally disturbed.

It will take time and effort for that to happen, and it may not, judging by the past. This time could be different, though. Please let your voice be heard.

Meanwhile, put some good into the world. You never know how stressed or hurting someone might really be, and how meaningful your unexpected kindness could be.

Intuition, microexpressions, hypervigilance, and trauma

When Intuition Is A Curse.

When people come into my office and tell me, very early in a conversation, that they are ‘intuitive’ and ‘can see into people’ I often wonder if they have had trauma. The longer I do this for a living the more I realize that some of us developed our insights into humanity as a protection mechanism. It makes sense. People who have experienced trauma tend to be more intuitive. We’ve experienced hypervigilance where we are constantly scanning our environments for signs of danger.

Have you experienced trauma, and are you intuitive, psychic, an empath, and/or clairvoyant? I’m curious.

This article reminded me that early this year, I witnessed some microexpressions, when emotions that someone is trying to suppress appear briefly on their face. Paul Ekman has done a lot of research into them. The TV show Lie To Me is based on his work. Reading them may have a lot to do with intuition.

I noticed hatred and contempt appear fleetingly behind a mask of apparent calm and reason on the face of a man I had dated for a couple of months as he spoke to me. He was unaware of them or that I could read them.

It was disturbing. I could not think of anything I had done to merit those emotions, and I felt hurt and puzzled. From that and other puzzling oddities, I suspected he’d been emotionally abused. He hadn’t mentioned it to me, but his behavior had been strange at times. A mutual friend confirmed years of past abuse. Apparently I had unknowingly done something that triggered his memories of being abused.

After learning of the history of abuse, I felt compassion for him. I also realized I didn’t want to be alone with him in private again.

Later he got his wires crossed again, in public, right in front of me. Curious (because he still hadn’t told me anything about the abuse), I then had a clairvoyant experience in which I “saw” that he’d been the subject of horrific psychotic rage repeatedly for years.

I had a major fight-or-flight reaction.

I rode it out with mindfulness as much as I could. Once the biochemical cascade was underway, there was not much to do but wait for it to fully subside and do what I could to recover my equilibrium. It took a few months for that to happen. I watched my fearful, self-protective mind at work, influenced by deep stress. It wasn’t pretty, and I’m glad it’s over. Although unpleasant and difficult, being able to witness my own experience was useful.

I learned a lot from this. A main take-away is that if I am relating to someone who’s been traumatized, I want them to be up-front about it pretty quickly, if they have any awareness of it at all. It leaks out anyway if they try to hide it, and they come across as untrustworthy.

Over 60 percent of Americans experience trauma at least once in their lives. It’s not that uncommon.

I gained compassion for my past traumatized self, before I had done any healing work. I didn’t know myself well enough to understand how much trauma had shaped me.

During that time of riding out the biochemical cascade, I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. I am grateful for the healers who helped me recover, including the healer inside me.

I felt compassion for him. He was admittedly clueless, dissociated, and good at compartmentalizing. In my opinion, he seriously needed professional help.

I grokked his disappointment at leaving an abuser with hopes for a better future, waiting six months after divorcing and taking a course on building new relationships before dating, only to discover that the abuse had made him both easily disturbed by those with positive intentions and disturbing to them.

It was sobering to refer someone I dated to therapy. In hindsight, I think I showed him how a fairly healthy person responds when they are dating or befriending someone who shows signs and symptoms of mental illness, who is either hiding it, discounting its seriousness, or so injured he doesn’t even know he has a mental illness.

I let him know that I knew, told him that I would not have dated him had I known, and I ended our relationship until such time as he has recovered, urging him to get professional help to that end.

It seems probable that he needed to know how someone would do this. But damn, that was really freaky.

May his cluelessness become curiosity.

May his compartmentalization become wholeness and expansion.

May his fears become worthy of reconditioning.

May his dissociation occur only when useful, and may he learn to live in partnership with his body.

May his awareness include an appreciation of the gifts of the unconscious mind and a more conscious partnership with it.

May his contempt, hatred, terror, shame, and secrecy be transformed and his burden be lessened.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

And after I think of him and send energetic blessings his way, I dissolve all thoughts and images of him and bring my attention back to my own body and experience peace and gratitude.

But was my intuition working because I’ve experienced trauma myself and learned to be observant? I don’t know. Here’s a possibility: Apparently some long-time meditators are also adept at reading microexpressions.

From studies with thousands of people, Ekman knew that people who do better at recognizing these subtle emotions are more open to new experience, more interested and more curious about things in general. They are also conscientious — reliable and efficient. “So I had expected that many years of meditative experience” — which requires both openness and conscientiousness — “might make them do better on this ability,” Ekman explains. Thus he had wondered if Öser might be better able to identify these ultra-fast emotions than other people are.

Then Ekman announced his results: both Öser and another advanced Western meditator Ekman had been able to test were two standard deviations above the norm in recognizing these super-quick facial signals of emotion, albeit the two subjects differed in the emotions they were best at perceiving. They both scored far higher than any of the five thousand other people tested. “They do better than policemen, lawyers, psychiatrists, customs officials, judges — even Secret Service agents,” the group that had previously distinguished itself as most accurate.

“It appears that one benefit of some part of the life paths these two have followed is becoming more aware of these subtle signs of how other people feel,” Ekman notes. Öser had super-acuity for the fleeting signs of fear, contempt and anger. The other meditator — a Westerner who, like Öser, had done a total of two to three years in solitary retreats in the Tibetan tradition — was similarly outstanding, though on a different range of emotions: happiness, sadness, disgust and, like Öser, anger.

I’m not nearly as experienced at meditation as these men, but even at my level, meditation can slow the experience of time down until there is only the present moment, which becomes vast, and awareness simply expands.

If you can experience time like that, microexpressions would be much more apparent.

That’s one explanation. Or maybe I’ve just been around the block a few times. Or maybe these long-time meditators had also trauma in their histories. The article didn’t say.

I do know that for years, I’ve been interested in people-reading, and I imagine at some point early on, there was a connection in discerning whether they were safe to be around. But once you realize someone is not out to murder you, there’s still a lot to learn. We humans are pretty fascinating and diverse.

If you want to learn more about reading microexpressions, Paul Ekman (link above) has a newsletter and online training.